Public housing

Syracuse rejected a $50 million grant to rebuild public housing near I-81; leaders commit to moving forward

The city of Syracuse failed in its first attempt to win a competitive $50 million federal grant to begin the proposed $1 billion renovation of the neighborhood in the shadow of Interstate 81.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has rejected an application, made by the city and the Syracuse Housing Authority, for a competitive grant to implement Choice Neighborhoods, city officials said.

The denial was based on a technicality, not the merits of the request, city officials said.

HUD requires that projects be built within a single, defined timeframe of six years. Because this project must be coordinated with the removal of the I-81 overpass, it requires two phases. HUD officials also did not approve of the boundaries Syracuse officials drew to avoid staging areas for freeway construction.

Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens and Syracuse Housing Authority Director Bill Simmons said they were confident their approach was possible after consulting with HUD officials. But in the end, their request was denied before HUD staff even visited the site.

“It’s pure technicality,” Owens said. “We knew that and thought we could create a plan that would fix it because we know our community.

Owens and Simmons said they were disappointed and disagreed with the decision. Yet they are committed to moving the project forward, which is far larger than the $50 million grant. They intend to use state money, from a non-competitive Homes and Community Renewal program for the first phase.

They plan to reapply for the HUD grant this year or next year for a later phase that can be done immediately to comply with HUD guidelines.

“We will move forward with the development plan, especially phases one and two, using state dollars,” Simmons said.

The money was reportedly used to tear down public housing owned by the Syracuse Housing Authority and build new ones. The first phase includes the demolition of 293 apartments in McKinney Manor and Pioneer Homes. The proposal is to build 611 new units, including a new apartment building on vacant land, which would be open to current social housing residents and available for anyone to rent at market prices.

In the second phase, the rest of the pioneer houses—those closest to I-81—would fall. A third phase would include the demolition of Central Village. The Almus Olver Towers, a residence for the elderly, would be remodeled.

The apartments are New York State’s oldest public housing, built in 1938.

The Syracuse Housing Authority asked HUD to provide 293 vouchers to current residents to use in new apartments, other Syracuse housing or anywhere in the country, depending on the application.

The public housing reconstruction is the first step in what has become an $800 million to $1 billion plan to rebuild a beleaguered neighborhood spanning 27 blocks and 118 acres of public and private property that stretches from East Adams Streets to East Colvin Streets and I-81 to Midland Avenue.

A total of 1,591 units would be renovated or replaced, depending on the grant application.

This is an ambitious plan that aims to lift the inhabitants of the former 15th arrondissement out of poverty. The once vibrant black community was divided and disadvantaged in the 1950s and 1960s when the elevated section of I-81 was built in downtown Syracuse.

The median household income in the community is around $16,000, compared to $38,000 citywide. The neighborhood suffers from high crime rates, poorly performing schools, unemployment, inadequate childcare and reduced access to food, according to the app.

After years of study, the state and federal governments launched a $2.25 billion plan to demolish the freeway and reduce traffic to street level in the heart of the city.

Elected officials from all levels of government have said that the demolition of a highway offers an opportunity to correct the social injustices of the past.

In addition to the HUD grant, the city and housing authority intend to seek additional millions from public, private and philanthropic sources.

The neighborhood’s renovation is being led by a nonprofit called Blueprint 15. The nonprofit was formed by the city, the Syracuse Housing Authority, and the Allyn Foundation, which uses money from Welch’s sale Allyn to fight poverty. The developer is McCormack Baron Salazar, who has worked on 16 similar projects using Choice Neighborhood Grants.

In January, when the city applied for the grant, Owens pointed to the developer’s experience with this type of HUD grant as reason for optimism about the city’s likely success.

No city in New York State has ever won the grant.

Finalists this year include the cities of Omaha, Nebraska; Durham, North Carolina; East St. Louis, Ill.; Knoxville, TN; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Read more:

Syracuse embarks on $800 million plan to end public housing as we know it

I-81: Upstate New York’s Largest Freeway Project Is About To Get Started, But May Not Be Where You Think

How will the new I-81 affect your commute? See estimated travel times for the Syracuse area

Syracuse Mayor Walsh Says I-81 Community Network Should Look Like City Streets, Not a Freeway

Save 81: Powerful forces masked as grassroots movement fights to keep highway through Syracuse

Contact Michelle Breidenbach | [email protected] | 315-470-3186.